Margaret Gates is founder and director of Feline Nutrition and The Feline Nutrition Foundation. She is passionate about helping cats be healthier by getting them fed the right kind of food. Besides running the organizations, she researches and writes articles and does all of the graphic design, website and print, for Feline Nutrition. She resides in Northern Virginia with her husband and eleven raw fed cats - all rescues.
A huge thank you to Margaret for doing this interview with me.
Please visit Feline Nutrition online.
What is Feline Nutrition?
Feline Nutrition is a not-for-profit advocacy organization that educates pet parents on the benefits of feeding a species-appropriate diet to cats. We also warn about the dangers of feeding dry foods. We aren’t selling a product. Basically, we are passionate about helping cats live healthier lives by getting them fed the food they evolved to eat – raw meat. We were founded in 2008 and since then we have built a comprehensive website with science-backed information for both beginners and those with experience feeding raw meat diets.
We want people to really think about what they feed their cats, not just accept that the food that’s being sold is necessarily the best choice. We provide information on health and nutrition and also the practical stuff. We have a special focus on beginners because we remember what it was like at the start when feeding a raw meat diet was a new, and rather scary, idea. More and more people are hearing about raw meat diets and we provide a place where they can learn the why and how of feeding their cats a better diet.
We are also a membership organization. It’s free to join. We currently have over 3600 members from over 70 countries. We want people to feel they are part of a community and we also want to show that feeding cats species-appropriate diets is not just something that a few people are doing as a fad. It is something that people everywhere are realizing is the best way to help their cats be healthy and happy.
What drove you to start Feline Nutrition?
We had had a bunch of cats, many of whom succumbed to some of the diet-related diseases that are so common these days. When the last of that group of cats passed, we got a new group of cats, sort of all at once, from rescue groups. We were determined to feed them the best diet possible.
I attended a series of lectures given by a local veterinarian. One of them was on nutrition. This was where I first heard about the unique nutritional requirements of cats. Like most people, I hadn’t really thought about it much. The food sold in the grocery store must be great for cats, right? This vet really opened my eyes. She had brought all of her equipment and made a batch of raw food right there. This was my light bulb moment. I realized I could do this. I also realized that I had made some very big assumptions that had probably been detrimental to my cats’ health.
Our cats at the time were about a year old, with no health problems. I switched them all to a raw meat diet. I was amazed at the difference a simple change in diet made in them. They had more energy, their coats got incredibly soft and silky, they stopped waking us up in the middle of the night for food, and best of all, their poop didn’t smell – at all. Before, when they were fed wet food, we used to keep cans of air freshener next to the litter boxes, the smell was so horrendous. So, this was a big, and welcome, change, considering how many cats we had. Raw fed cats poop much less, too. I have since learned that cat poop is not supposed to smell, if it does, that’s a sign that something is wrong.
Like a lot of folks who discover a good thing, I started talking to people. Everyone I talked to fed their cats dry food. Only a few had even heard of raw meat diets. Of those, almost all of them had come to raw diets while desperately searching for something to help their sick cat. Both of these situations were wrong. I had to do something about it. And, I realized, I could.
I gathered a group together, to which we continue to add all the time, to start educating people. I wanted people to do some critical thinking about what they chose to feed their cats. I also wanted people to know that feeding a raw meat diet isn’t hard, and it’s getting easier all the time. I started out making my own food for my cats, thanks to that hands-on demo, but I added a good variety of commercially prepared foods and whole meats over time. It really can be as simple as choosing one product over another.
What diet-related diseases are there with cats?
Many. Diet isn’t the sole factor, but it can be a major contributing influence. Diabetes tops the list. Think about it, cats getting diabetes, that is so wrong. Feeding cats food loaded with carbs puts an enormous strain on their systems, especially their pancreas. Every time carbs are fed to a cat their systems release a flood insulin to deal with it, rather than the slow release that happens when they are fed high-protein, low (or zero) carb foods. Cats actually have no requirement for carbs at all. They don’t need any. It only messes up their digestion. Changing to a raw meat diet, along with tight regulation of the insulin, results in about an 80 to 90% remission rate in newly diagnosed diabetic cats.
IBD would be next on the list. Getting IBD cats onto a healthy raw diet often gets them healthy again. We have a great article on our site about Alistair, a cat who had had diarrhea for more than a year, making a complete turnaround after getting onto a raw diet. I hear over and over again from people whose cats now have normal digestion after they made the switch. For many cats, it is what they absolutely have to be eating to be healthy.
Urinary issues are also helped by raw diets. One of the main concerns in these cats is getting lots of fluid into them (also a concern with cats with kidney issues) and raw diets are 70-80% moisture. So, it’s a major benefit there. There are also dental benefits. Cats benefit from just not being fed a food with carbs, as the starch in those foods sets up an environment in the mouth that can promote plaque. The greatest benefit is from feeding whole meats and cuts with bone. This is Nature’s toothbrush for cats! You want your cat using those side teeth to gnaw through meat, skin and bone. This scraping action is what helps keep teeth clean. There are other factors involved in dental disease, but feeding these kinds of meat helps.
Please note that if your cat is ill, you need to work with your veterinarian when you change diets. If your vet is not versed in nutrition – get a second opinion!
What is Feline Nutrition's Indiegogo Campaign?
Since we started in 2008, we have not had very much money to work with. Everyone involved is a volunteer, we don't have advertising on our site, we aren't selling a product and membership is free. We get a small income from the listings in the Resource Center, basically almost enough to cover the website costs. We launched the Indiegogo Campaign to raise funds to expand our outreach abilities. People that go looking for information on raw diets for cats always find us, but, frankly, that's not good enough. We want to reach people who aren't looking. We want to get information to people when they first get their new cat or kitten by providing outstanding materials to rescues and shelters. People should be feeding healthy foods right from the start, not just looking into nutrition when their cat develops a problem.
If I am new to the site, where should I start reading/learning?
We just posted a great new article “Beginner's Luck: Where Do I Start?” that would be a good starting point. It has lots of links to articles and videos that will help a beginner. Besides that, the Nutrition section is a good place to learn and the Answers section has questions you have probably asked yourself. Be sure to check out the YouTube Channel, too.
One of Floppycats' readers saw your site posted on Jackson Galaxy's Facebook page. Is Jackson supporting your site?
Yes! He donated a big box of JG items to use as a perk for our campaign. He is also an advocate of raw diets and the idea that dry food is not an appropriate food for cats. Like us, he tells people to stop free feeding, stop feeding dry foods and at least feed a good, grain-free canned food if you can't feed a raw diet. Since one of his goals is to keep cats from winding up in shelters (from bad behavior), this fits right in. Cats also get dumped at shelters when they have medical problems, and many medical problems are diet related. Feeding a species-appropriate diet helps to keep cats healthy and in their homes.
What are your long term goals with Feline Nutrition?
We would like to be able to fund research into feline nutrition through our non-profit, The Feline Nutrition Foundation. Raw diets have not been included in many research studies and this is wrong. Most research is funded by the big pet food companies, and I certainly understand why raw diets are not something they want to compare their foods to (we know how that would come out!). We would like to do some much-needed nutritional analysis studies on the foods fed in raw diets. There is a lot of guesswork and estimation because detailed nutrient information just isn't available. We are also planning a nutrition certificate and certification program. All of these will take some funding, so will depend in part on our ability to fund raise and liaise with other organizations.
Do you think there will be a day where dry food is no longer made for cats?
I certainly hope so! But, it is cheap, convenient and heavily marketed, so it will take some major mind-set changes to get people to realize how bad it is for cats. We're working on that!
What most people don't realize is that dry foods were invented as a way to make use of leftovers from the production of human food. They started from the idea of “we have all this food that isn't good enough for human consumption, what can we do with it?” rather than, “What is the healthiest food to feed cats?” It was never intended as a healthy food. Just because cats can survive eating it doesn't mean it is healthy for them. You could probably survive on corn chips exclusively, but would you be healthy if you never ate any fresh foods?
How can we help Feline Nutrition?
Firstly, help your own cats. Take a good, critical look at their diet and your own assumptions. Make changes if you need to. To help Feline Nutrition, be vocal about spreading the word. So many people find us because they heard about raw diets from their friends. Join the Society. It's free. Your membership helps others understand that this is a world-wide movement, and that's important. Share our articles through social media. Contribute to the Indiegogo Campaign if you can. If you are reading this after the campaign has ended, you can still donate to the Society through the website. We appreciate every contribution and all contributions, even small ones, help us advocate for cats.
Please visit Feline Nutrition online.